A manga by Shūzō Oshimi
Recently, I have been increasingly becoming a fan of horror manga – The works of Junji Itoh, Pumpkin Night, and PTSD Radio have all been some of my recent favorites. It’s a genre that I dabble in as a whole, but usually avoid in films because I’m not the biggest fan of what horror movies have turned into in the last few decades (jump scares OH NO!). With comics, however, I’ve found that they can’t go into those gimmicks and clichés, and that they are more enjoyable as a result. I was able to get ahold of volume one of a vampire manga called Happiness by by Shūzō Oshimi for really cheap, and fell in love with it. Pretty soon, I was ten volumes down of something that I merely wanted to “try out” to see if I liked it.
I normally review things one volume at a time, but due to the way I read this, and the fact that it would be hard to go back and review it piecemeal, I’d rather just look at the whole series at once.
“Makoto Okazaki is an unpopular high school student who is frequently bullied by some of his classmates, being forced to act as their errand boy. But his life drastically changes one night when he is attacked by a mysterious girl, who plunges her teeth into his neck and begins drinking his blood. Upon satisfying her craving, she offers Makoto a simple choice: become like her or die. When he wakes up in a hospital after his encounter, Makoto is unable to deal with the blindingly bright lights and finds that water cannot quench his growing thirst… “From My anime List
This comic drops most of the more modern vampire mythos and clichés, gone are references to the aristocracy, romance, even sparkliness. Instead, the author goes back to portraying them as animalistic killing machines doomed to eternally walk the earth. Crawling through the night, these vampires subsist by feeding on the innocent and hiding away from prying eyes. I don’t think I’ve seen a similar portrayal since the film Let the Right One in. Our main character, Makoto is one such boy that falls prey to a rabid vampiress named Nora, but she feels pity for him and decides to give him a choice – death or eternal life. Perhaps she does this in order to find a mate in her never-ending pain and loneliness, but it’s evident that she is barely human anymore, no longer even remembering her life before being blood-dependent. Makoto tries to live a normal life for a while, but things get out of hand pretty fast and he draws far to much attention to himself and Nora ending up with The Government, and literally vampire hunters against him. It was at this point in the book where I assumed it was all wrapping up towards a super-depressing ending, but not so fast.
Truthfully, the best moments of Happiness are at the beginning of the manga, that isn’t to say the second half of the books are bad or anything, it just seems like the tone of the book shifts drastically from a horror book, to something like a true crime story involving a vampire cult of all things. That’s tight – Makoto and Nora end up being locked away for most of the story, and the POV switches to one of Makoto’s few friends, a girl named Gosho. Gosho tries her best to figure out what is going on with her friends as the taint of vampirism hits her VERY hard, people she dearly loves end up dead, and she is basically powerless to stop it. She becomes a victim of a psychopathic man obsessed with vampires that basically uses her to meet one for real. The book then time jumps a number of years, and the very same man, one that left her for dead, is a famous cult leader promising salvation through vampirism. it’s completely bonkers and definitely was not what I expected.
All-in-all, I enjoyed this book despite it’s weird tonal changes and its tendency to torture its main characters so much that I nearly stopped reading the book during one of the later chapters. While the book definitely doesn’t end in the “Happiness” that you would hope to see, it at least ties everything up and relieves the reader that pushes through to the end. Happiness by Shūzō Oshimi is a solid read with gorgeous art and shows that Asia can do things with western horror motifs that are both refreshing and exciting simply due to an absence of the need to follow conventions of what a Vampire NEEDS to do as if there are rules. He also doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel by drastically changing the idea that makes a vampire a vampire, it is because of this that makes his ideas great. If you want a horror manga this October, look no further than this book, it’s something you can really sink your teeth into.